Dope kind of looked like Skins if it was tangentially about hip-hop and L.A., so I was sold. My dog and I decided to enjoy it together this Friday night.
The first thing I noticed about Dope is that the three high-school kids, Malcom, Diggy and Jib, romanticize the 90’s, calling it “the golden era of hip-hop.” I believe Malcom even says he wishes he had grown up in the 90’s.
This made me feel both old and cool at the same time. Romanticize my youth kids. It is the new classic, apparently. Envy my Beanie Babies. Ironically copy my Walkman. Dance to Outkast and Destiny’s Child like you knew about them before they were cool.
This also made me compare what was “classic” to me in high school vs. what is classic now. My definition of “classic” would have been the late 70’s/80’s, which I didn’t romanticize as much as I tried to decipher the what and why of their fashion choices. To these kids, classic, “cool” music is less about Pink Floyd and The Doors and more about gangster rap. (Also, kids today are the first generation where parents and kids somewhat align on what music is considered cool, since they all like hip-hop and R&B. A teacher friend of mine told me she was shocked that her high school science students knew all the words to an Usher song she remembered from middle school.)
I look forward to seeing more nostalgia about the 90’s and hip-hop in media. Bring it on, this movie and Fresh Off the Boat.
Once I got over this thought tangent, I kept feeling like this movie reminded me of one of my favorite movies, City of God, which I didn’t expect. The way Malcom casually narrates how his big dreams don’t fit in with his rough-and-tumble surroundings of Inglewood reminded me of Buscapé talking about how his camera will someday get him out of the favela where he never quite fit in.
But is this movie as vibrant and violent as City of God? It’s definitely not a “cinematic masterpiece” on the same level, but it is driven by music, humor and violence in a similar way. It’s more lighthearted than City of God, but certain moments, like where a guy gets shot at a fast food joint and his Gameboy is shown covered in blood, proves it isn’t that far off. Dope is kind of like if MTV tried to make a movie like City of God – hipper, safer and more lol-able, but with less of the rough-around-the-edges beauty that Fernando Meirelles brought to the table.
I enjoyed the cast of Dope a lot. Malcom (Shameik Moore) and his flat top and his ability to shake and cry. Zoe Kravitz as the beautiful Nakia, who is also caught between worlds. Kiersey Clemmons as Diggy, with lots of amazing outfits and dance moves, who wants to leer at naked ladies as much as her guy friends. Blake from Workaholics shows up as a hacker who is really mad about not being able to say “the N word,” which leads to some hilarious name-dropping of ancestry.com.
Authenticity is a big theme in Dope. Malcom has to navigate not just different social crowds, but a bunch of stereotypes that mean he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Malcom and his friends’ punk band name “Awreeoh” is a tongue-in-cheek re-appropriation of the bullying he gets for doing things like try to get into Harvard.
Dope is a pretty classic “innocent kids dive into the seedy underbelly of the world around them” movie, but with a modern twist, since these kids are innocent but by no means naive. Sometimes the movie’s ambition leads to wild goose chases (like the ecstasy-fueld, nypho-esque antics of Lily, played by Chanel Iman), but hey, it never gets boring. Dope is an important movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I give it a good enough SAT score to get into Harvard!